Photo by Judy Hausman
The omnivore chefs, farmer-authors and the Slow Food peeps are brandishing their knives.
In the Big City (there’s only one: New York) Mario Batali put Babbo on the map by serving lamb brains, and at the adorable Prune farther downtown, Gabrielle Hamilton grills marinated veal heart. Second-generation butcher (and former vegan) Josh Applestone takes on chef-apprentices at his local-only butcher shop in Kingston, N.Y. Fully one-third of the decade’s best cookbooks listed on the food media site Eat Me Daily have focused on meat.
Offal: Organ meats, such as liver, kidney, et cetera.
Tripe a la mode de Caen: The rubbery lining of the stomach of cattle or other ruminants, cooked with aromatics and a calf’s foot, Caen-style.
Tete de veau: Literally, veal head, including thymus, brain, tongue, muzzle meat, et cetera, prepared in a broth.
Sweetbreads: The thymus and pancreas of a young (usually) calf.
Foie gras: The purposely fattened liver of a goose or duck.
Flat-iron steak: The cut from the shoulder of a cow (aka top-blade steak).
Heritage breeds: Disappearing, diverse breeds of livestock, now valued for their adaptability to small farming.
We’ve all located our grass-fed beef source, our righteous veal, our heritage-breed pork and our Brooklyn backyard bunny supplier. We know that now we have to face flensing the flesh ourselves to be truly conscious carnivores.
I’ve read the books, I’ve seen the movies, and I know the industry is over-centralized, disgusting and dangerous to our health and even to the communities where the plants are located. We’ve gone out of our way to create demand so availability of the good stuff is now wider. The product is better and more consistent, too. Whether it’s grass-fed flat iron steaks, double-cut Berkshire pork chops, lamb sausage or a delicate roaster chicken, I know how to handle small-farm meat, now, and it’s way more consistent, less stringy, not gamey and reliably flavorful.
I vote for snout-to-tail eating: We honor the animal we kill by consuming all of its good body unsqueamishly. I get it; I endorse it; I’m pro. Refrigerator-case meat wrapped in plastic is sanitized. Even butchers don’t see hanging sides anymore. The meat comes to them from afar in large, pre-cut pieces also wrapped in plastic.
But here’s the thing: I just can’t enjoy offal. And, Lord knows, I’ve tried.
In a tiny farm town in Austria, the tavern had only lung soup to eat on a chilly night so we ate it. The bouncy chunks of brown lung were at least warm and pretty tasteless. I sought out the very best Parisian café for tripe a la mode de Caen. The mirrored café, tiled with murals of Brittany, was worth the trip but the intestines, served over an individual warming candle, still tasted like blood and dirt to me. Recently, a Parisian maitre d’ congratulated my dining companion on his choice of gelatinous tête de veau.
“Most people from your country won’t eat that,” he said.
Photo by Judith Hausman
As for me, I adore France but I’ll take the cod, please.
There is one exception. I say no to sweetbreads and kidney pie, but I say yes to chicken liver paté in almost any style.
I scarf up my mom’s Jewish-style chopped liver, made pasty with plenty of caramelized onions and lightened with added egg. Bring me smooth shallot and cognac-scented French-style paté or the Tuscan version, dark and chunky with anchovies. Smeared on crackers or toast ,these frugal spreads (let’s leave out the foie gras controversy for now) make wonderful lunches or earthy hors d’oeuvres. Even if I can’t get past the innards obstacle, at least I’m sustainably, hipply PC when I eat the livers of JohnBoy Ubaldo’s plump, chickens, raised lovingly and brought to the ‘burbs from about 3 hours north, near the Vermont border.